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Review of The Windsors at War

Back with another additional to my June and World War II books, this time a non-fiction title!

More about The Windsors at War

At the beginning of 1937, the British monarchy was in a state of turmoil. The previous king, Edward VIII, had abdicated the throne, leaving his unprepared and terrified brother Bertie to become George VI, surrounded by a gaggle of courtiers and politicians who barely thought him up to the job. Meanwhile, as the now-Duke of Windsor awaited the decree that would allow him to marry his mistress Wallis Simpson, he took an increased interest in the expansionist plans of Adolf Hitler. He may even have gone so far as to betray his country in the process. And as double agents and Nazi spies thronged the corridors of Buckingham Palace, the only man the King could trust was his Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. But they faced a formidable, even unbeatable, adversary: his own brother.

The Windsors at War: The King, His Brother and a Family Divided tells the never-before-told story of World War Two in Britain and America with a fresh focus on the royal family, their conflicted relationships, and the events that rocked the international press. How did this squabbling, dysfunctional family manage to put their differences aside and unite to help win the greatest conflict of their lifetimes? Alexander Larman, author of The Crown in Crisis, now chronicles the Windsor family at war with Germany—and each other.

More About Alexander Larman

Alexander Larman is the author of several historical and biographical titles. His most recent book, Power and Glory, the third and final instalment in his Windsors trilogy, following The Crown in Crisis and The Windsors at War, was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in March 2024.  

His first book, Blazing Star: The Life and Times of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, was published by Head of Zeus in 2014, and his second, Restoration, a social history of the year 1666, was published in April 2016. His third, Byron’s Women, came out in September 2016 and was shortlisted for the Elma Dangerfield Prize.

He is books editor of The Spectator’s world edition and is a contributing editor to The Critic magazine. He has a monthly book review column in The Observer and writes regularly about literature and the arts for publications including Prospect, The Times, Engelsberg Ideas and the Daily Telegraph.

He lives in Oxford with his wife Nancy, who is also a writer, and daughter Rose, who harbours ideas of going on the stage.

My Thoughts on The Windsors at War

First a little explanation, I am not a Royal Family fan - I don't have tea towels emblazoned with Kate's face. I didn't read Harry's memoir. But I do enjoy World War II history. I was at my local library perusing the latest arrivals but had already stuffed my glasses into my purse. I could make out THE WINDSORS AT WAR on the book spine and assumed it was about mainly about World War II: battle plans, the Blitz, rationing, meeting FDR. I missed the subtitle: The King, His Brother and a Family Divided.

So, although it is about World War II, it's also about a troublesome thorn in the new king's side: the Duke (former King Edward VIII) and Duchess of Windsor (former Wallis Simpson). I thought the modern Royal Family had troubles: divorces, sex scandals, renouncing titles, mistresses, health scares and what not. The 1930s - 1940s had their share too: divorces, sex scandals, abdications, Nazi spies, murders, suicides, mysterious plane crashes. This book is interesting because it looks at the Royal Family simultaneously dealing with two main crises (and a few minor ones): World War II and the roaming Windsors. Ex-royalty with no purpose, less discretion and little money (of course, an ex-King's idea of little money is probably vastly different from our idea).

I did fine reading this without reading the first book but I already had a working knowledge of

the abdication. If you don't, you might want to brush up on the abdication first. There are a lot of people involved in this and bravo to Larman for including a "cast of characters" I could reference. It seems well researched with plenty of footnotes and effectively tried to pull back the curtain and show us what was going one behind that English proper facade. This is for people serious about their history and politics as well as the personalities that play starring roles.

A Little Extra

Throughout The Windsors at War, Larman would ocassionally reference back to something that was covered in the first book in this series about the Royal Family, The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to the Abdication. Well, all those tantalizing tidbits about the Duke of Windsor abdication scandal means I must read this book too! Plus the final book in the trilogy, just released in March 2024 is Power and Glory: Elizabeth II and the Rebirth of Royalty covering Elizabeth becoming Queen - still with the annoying Duke and Duchess of Windsor lurking in the background.

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